Premier League Preview 2018-2019:

A new season begins…all rights are reserved for this image ©

By Manish Pandey.


An Arsenal without Arsene Wenger. Who would have thought that day would come?

Unai Emery has an extremely difficult job on his hands.

Arsenal have gone backwards in the last 5 seasons. They have been a naïve team, set up poorly with little tactical detail. Emery is a football obsessive.

He is not a novice and whilst not having the level of success of the other elite managers, he did win a domestic treble with Paris Saint-Germain and three Europa League titles, consecutively, with Seville. He will pour over the tactics and work with individual players to improve them. Young players such as Alex Iwobi, Rob Holding and Hector Bellerin should benefit from this.
Emery will likely set Arsenal up in a 4-2-3-1 formation with greater intensity and pressing off the ball. It will be interesting to see how he accommodates Mesut Ozil, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette in the same team.

The signings he has made are not guaranteed to improve Arsenal but are likely to bring something different.

Stephan Lichtsteiner, the experienced Swiss right-back, should bring some toughness, £17.7m Greece centre-back Sokratis Papastathopoulos from Borussia Dortmund and the £26.5m signing of the talented Uruguayan midfielder Lucas Torreira from Sampdoria should strengthen a weak core. Bernd Leno is expected to take the No. 1 spot from Petr Cech after joining from Bayer Leverkusen for £19.2m. It will be interesting to see how quickly he adapts to the physically tougher Premier League.

Despite the signings, there are still big gaps. A lack of reliable back up options, fitness struggles for the likes of Danny Welbeck and Laurent Koscielny and most crucially, inconsistency from Ozil and Mkhitaryan.

Emery has to be given time to make this Arsenal team tactically smarter and mentally tougher. It will be a tough task, but Arsenal fans should feel optimistic.


Whilst finishing 9th last season, Bournemouth had a rocky time.

They had a poor record against the top six, losing 10 of 12 matches. They only won one of their first eight games, a record they will not want to repeat this season. They only kept six clean sheets, another dismal defensive record that they will want to rectify.

Despite this, Bournemouth showed incredible resilience last season, gaining 21 points from losing positions.

Eddie Howe will want to get Bournemouth back to the high energy and possession orientated team they were in the first few years.

They have strengthened with Colombia midfielder Jefferson Lerma signed from Levante for a club record £25m, David Brooks from Sheffield United and full-back Diego Rico from Leganes. Jermain Defoe will want to contribute more having only scored four league goals after being bogged down by injuries. Howe will hope Lewis Cook will continue his fine form in midfield, forming a solid partnership with Dan Gosling.

It will not be easy, but if Bournemouth get back to doing what they did a few years ago, they will once again be stern opposition.

Brighton and Hove Albion:

In typical Chris Hughton fashion, Brighton have had a calm summer. This is a manager who knows how to keep level-headed and focus on improving the football team. Good organisation and teamwork are the hallmarks of this team.

Brighton play fast, direct football from the wings, with the creativity of Pascal Gross in the No. 10 position in a 4-4-1-1 system. Glenn Murray scored 12 goals last season but will need Jurgen Locadia to ease the goals burden this season.

Iranian Alireza Jahanbakhsh was one of the better players in the Eredivisie league and will hope to replicate his form in the Premier League. Bernardo’s arrival from RB Leipzig gives Hughton another option in the full-back positions. The strong pair of Shane Duffy and Lewis Dunk are mainstays in central defence. Hughton will be concerned by his team’s vulnerability at set pieces.

Undoubtedly, Hughton will work hard on correcting that. If Brighton maintain the good traits from last season and improve through the new signings, particularly in scoring goals, there is no reason why they cannot stay up.


Burnley finishing in the Europa League spot last season was the most surprising achievement.

They were very much the best of the teams outside the top six.

Burnley under Sean Dyche have made extraordinary progress. They are now seen as a secure Premier League team with state of the art facilities and infrastructure. They are now a team that players want to come to. Dyche is a manager players want to play for.

The signing of Joe Hart will provide good back up at a time when there are fitness issues with Tom Heaton and Nick Pope. Ben Gibson will give good cover at centre back and Matej Vydra will give another goals option for this Burnley team.

Dyche likes to work with a smaller squad but that will be put to the test with the additional Europa League matches they will have to play this season. The Europa League tends to be a hindrance on domestic performance.

Can Dyche bring out another season of over-achievement with his man-management and style?

Cardiff City:

Neil Warnock is back in the Premier League and his robust style will make headlines this season.

Preferring a 4-2-3-1 formation, Warnock will be reliant on his wingers, Junior Hoilett and Nathaniel Mendez-Laing to provide speed and direct play.

New signings in Alex Smithies, Bobby Reid, Greg Cunningham and Josh Murphy have 11 Premier League games between them, so they do not necessarily offer top-level experience. Cunningham, a raiding left-back, and Reid, a revelation after being reinvented as a striker at Bristol City, are fascinating buys.

Reid is a persistent runner who has developed goal scoring instincts. He played well against both Manchester clubs in a brilliant cup run last season, hard evidence of how he can trouble top-flight defenders.

In midfield they will rely on the experience of Aron Gunnarsson and defensively they will remain compact with Sol Bamba at centre-back. The biggest challenge will be whether Cardiff can make the step up to the Premier League in each position.


It has been a difficult summer for Chelsea. The departure of Antonio Conte was protracted and took far too long. The appointment of Maurizio Sarri was late. The World Cup has meant players have reported back very late. Sarri is a new coach in a new country with a new tactical philosophy.

Sarri prefers a high intensity 4-3-3 system, one that brought electric football to Napoli last season. He is an admirer of Pep Guardiola and seeks to emulate him in footballing style.

The departure of Thibaut Courtois will be a blow, but spending a world record £72m on his replacement, Kepa Arrizabalaga, along with gaining Mateo Kovacic in the Courtois deal softens the blow. In the midfield, new signing Jorginho and N’Golo Kante are certain to start, with the third midfield spot up for grabs between Cesc Fabregas and Ross Barkley.

Alvaro Morata has been poor in pre-season and looks to be bereft of all confidence. Willian seems unsettled but is always a hardworking player. The key for Chelsea will be to not only keep hold of Eden Hazard, but to stop him from being unsettled through the season. He is a genuine world-class player who makes a difference.

Unlike previous managers, Sarri has spoken positively of player development and youth players. Will this finally be the time Chelsea youngsters get a chance?

In recent years, whenever Chelsea have looked out of contention, they have found a way. Can they do it again?

Crystal Palace:

It has not been a busy summer for Crystal Palace, but perhaps the most important piece of business was to ensure Wilfried Zaha remains at the club.

Roy Hodgson is the key man to keeping Palace up. He has tactical knowledge, knows how to work with a relegation threatened team and has excellent management skills to get the most out of his players.

There is still quality in the first team with the likes of Mamadou Sakho, Patrick van Aanholt, Luka Milivojevic, Andros Townsend, Christian Benteke and Zaha.

The business that has been done looks promising. Max Meyer has arrived from Schalke to bolster the midfield. Cheikhou Kouyaté is a shrewd signing and will give energy.

Jordan Ayew will provide more firepower to help Zaha and Benteke with the goals.

Hodgson is the key to survival. They have to trust him.


When Farhad Moshiri bought Everton, it was supposed to herald a fresh new era. It has been anything but.

Ronald Koeman’s time in charge left a mess with a big number of surplus players left on high wages.

Marco Silva brings fresh ideas and a will to clean up the mess. There has been smart business in bringing in players, with Richarlison following Silva from Watford for £40m. A trio from Barcelona have arrived with left-back Lucas Digne providing another option, Colombian centre-back Yerry Mina giving the backline an international feel and Andre Gomes reinforcing the midfield. Winger Bernard is a player who fans can get excited about.

To free up the wage bill, Wayne Rooney was allowed to leave. He was the leading goalscorer last season and was one of few players who displayed quality. It is the second consecutive summer that Everton have gotten rid of their leading scorer.

There is a lot of pressure on Cenk Tosun to provide the goals. The wide areas are well covered with Richarlison, Theo Walcott, Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Ademola Lookman.
Gylfi Sigurdsson will have to show much better form than last season, he will be the main creative spark in the No. 10 role.

Silva’s biggest challenge will be to restore the connection between the fans and team. The fans want exciting football and results. If he can restore that, it will be a successful season for Everton.


Slavisa Jokanovic in an unlikely fashion led Fulham to promotion. They have had an excellent summer bolstering their squad and chances of survival.

The existing squad contains exciting players. Ryan Sessegnon was the key man last season and was tipped as an outside chance of making the England squad. Only 17, he is Fulham’s star and has garnered interest across Europe.

Tom Cairney scored the winner at Wembley and is the creative spark in midfield. They have signed Jean Michaël Seri fron Nice to add more creativity in the midfield. Andre Schurrle is back in England and will give plenty of speed on the flanks.

With Fulham’s game reliant on possession, new Spanish goalkeeper Fabri could start the season because of his distribution. Alfie Mawson will provide proven Premier League class in defence, and is a goal threat from set pieces. Loan moves for Calum Chambers and Luciano Vietto give good options for Jokanovic to choose from.

Aleksandar Mitrovic is a fan favourite and will provide goals, tireless running and hold up play. If he can keep his discipline, it will be a clever signing for Fulham.


Huddersfield’s main issue last season was goalscoring.

They failed to score in 21 of 38 matches. They have tried to remedy this in the summer. Ramadan Sobhi and Adama Diakhaby have skill and speed, but are still young and have not done too well at Stoke and Monaco.

Belgium Under-21 winger Isaac Mbenza is quick and direct. These signings should remedy last season’s failings.

Christopher Schindler and Mathias ‘Zanka’ Jorgensen are strong defenders. Jonas Lössl is a reliable figure in goal.

Signing Terence Kongolo from Monaco gives David Wagner another option. Huddersfield must ensure they stay defensively solid whilst searching for more goals.

They are, on paper, one of the weaker teams in the league, but David Wagner has an ability to get the most out of his players. He is an inspirational coach, but this season could just be a bit too tough for Huddersfield.

Leicester City:

Leicester City are reeling from the expected loss of Riyad Mahrez. They have signed his fellow Algerian Rachid Ghezzal as his replacement. Ghezzal has been excellent in patches but has never shown consistency.

Last season, Leicester started well under Claude Puel, but they lost their way and ended the season playing dismal football. Jamie Vardy was often left isolated and the defence was poor, conceding 60 goals.

Puel believes in youth and he will be afforded the opportunity to use the youngsters. This means Demarai Gray and Fousseni Diabaté will be given more chances.

James Maddison is likely to play the key role of the No. 10 in Puel’s favoured 4-2-3-1. Leicester fans will hope Adrien Silva will show more than he did last season.

It was important for Leicester to keep Harry Maguire away from Manchester United. His partnership with Jonny Evans will be key this season. At right-back, Puel has chosen Portugal international Ricardo Pereira, who played under him at Nice. He is quick and clever.

With Kasper Schmeichel, Maguire, Wilfred Ndidi, Albrighton and Vardy, Leicester have a good core.

Puel will need to get his players showing some spirit if they are to improve on next season.


Liverpool have arguably had the best summer of all the top teams.

On paper, at least, they are the second favourites and likely closest challengers to Manchester City.

They have shown outstanding performance, football and results, but Jurgen Klopp will know his third season will be judged on the ability of his team to win a trophy.

No Premier League club has spent more in the summer than Liverpool who, with the £75m acquisition of Virgil van Dijk in January, have invested £250m in Klopp’s squad in 2018.

The areas of weakness that were on show in the Champions League final, goalkeeper, midfield and bench strength have all been addressed in signing Naby Keïta, Fabinho, Xherdan Shaqiri and Alisson.

Keita will bring creativity and late movement, Fabinho brings strength, experience and versatility, Shaqiri brings speed and an X factor off the bench and Allison brings distribution and a sense of greater reliability than the current goalkeepers at Liverpool.

Retaining the likes of Mo Salah, Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane and having a core team built around them and the new players, Liverpool are in excellent shape heading into the new season.

Manchester City:

Manchester City are best placed to win the title again.

They have lost nobody and gained Riyad Mahrez. Their main obstacle will be themselves.

Retaining the title has been a problem and it will be a challenge for City to show they have the same desire as last season. Pep Guardiola has said the same.

Guardiola has indicated that he has thought up new tactical plans to counter teams who place 11 men behind the ball.

The variety in City’s attackers is something to get excited about. Where will all of these great stars play? Mahrez, Leroy Sane, Raheem Sterling, Sergio Aguero, Gabriel Jesus, Kevin de Bruyne and David Silva are all players who will put fear into the opposition.

If there is a weakness, it is in central midfield and cover for Fernandinho. A few injuries or suspensions could see John Stones deployed in midfield. Whilst it is unlikely they will win the title again by 19 points, they will probably retain their title.

Improving individual players and winning the Champions League will be the main aim for Guardiola this season.

Manchester United:

It has been a weird pre-season for Manchester United. Jose Mourinho has been vocal in his unhappiness at the lack of transfers in the summer.

That pessimism has filtered through to many fans. Mourinho knows he has to make United genuine contenders or he will be gone.

The football has to improve from the dreary defensive performances served up last season. Can Mourinho avoid his traditional third season meltdown?

He needs improvement from his stars. He needs Paul Pogba to be the Pogba from the World Cup. He needs Alexis Sanchez to be fit and firing once again. He needs Fred to make an instant impact. He needs his full-backs, Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young to show more class going forward. Can Luke Shaw finally come of age? He needs Marcus Rashford to terrorise defences. He needs Anthony Martial to play with happiness. Most importantly, Mourinho needs to get the best out of his players using his own man-management.

His treatment of players has been poor and it is no surprise many appear to be unhappy.

He needs to get a spirit within the squad. If he cannot do so, he will be gone.

Newcastle United:

Once again, it has been a tumultuous summer at Newcastle.

Rafa Benitez has been unhappy with the lack of funds available and Mike Ashley has shown little interest in releasing more funds to the clubs. The business that has been done will help the survival effort.

Benitez has brought in Ki Sung-yueng on a free transfer and will be hoping Fabian Schar and Yoshinori Muto can make an impact. Securing Martin Dubravka on a permanent transfer and completing another loan deal to bring back Kenedy were both important pieces of business given their huge impact in the second half of last season.

Salomon Rondon from West Brom will be important in getting the goals Newcastle need to stay up. Jamaal Lascelles is a strong defender and will be key once again.

The supporters are passionate and remain so because of Benitez. The toxic atmosphere behind the scenes cannot help.


Southampton have worked hard to ensure they are not left behind.

The traditional summer outgoings have continued with Dusan Tadic, Guido Carrillo, Jordi Clasie and Sofiane Boufal all shipped out.

The incomings are unknown quantities but intriguing choices.

Angus Gunn will likely take over from Fraser Forster having come in from Manchester City, while Mohammed Elyounoussi, Jannik Vestergaard and Stuart Armstrong are also expected to feature in what’s expected to be a new-look team.

Mark Hughes has had a summer to work on implementing his style of play and bringing a more attacking mindset to Southampton. Vestergaard can play alongside the likes of Maya Yoshida and Wesley Hoedt, giving Ryan Bertrand and Cedric more of a licence to push forward and join attacks.

Nathan Redmond and Elyounoussi can flank either Charlie Austin, Manolo Gabbiadini or deadline day signing Danny Ings as attacking wingers.

Armstrong can also provide a different option for Hughes which could allow him to deploy the more conventional 4-2-3-1 formation.

There are enough players which allow Hughes flexibility. Are these players up to Premier League standard?

Tottenham Hotspur:

Tottenham will move into their new stadium this season, and to mark the occasion they have made no signings this summer.

Importantly, they have kept their main stars in Harry Kane, Christian Eriksen, Dele Alli and even Toby Alderweireld.

It is important, much like with Liverpool, for Mauricio Pochettino to lift a trophy. They have to win something to reflect outstanding recent season form.

Spurs had 9 players in the semi-finals and final stage of the World Cup, undoubtedly hurting preparation for this season. It may take time for these players to hit full fitness once again which could mean a slow start.

Pochettino has been impressed with a host of young players who took their chance on tour but it would be a risk to use them.

Spurs will have to rely on the likes of Lucas Moura, Georges-Kevin N’Koudou and Fernando Llorente. Harry Winks is still rehabilitating from an ankle injury, which leaves Eric Dier, Moussa Sissoko and Dembele as the club’s central midfielders.

With a progressive style of play and an excellent manager, Spurs fans can be excited again for another season of football.


Watford will have problems in scoring goals this season.

They have not replaced Richarlison and there is too much pressure on Troy Deeney, Andre Gray and Stefano Okaka who scored a meagre total of 11 goals last season.

Defensively, Watford are in better shape. Ben Foster comes in as goalkeeper. Adam Masina will slot in at left-back. Marc Navarro from La Masia will come in at right-back and provide leadership qualities lacking in defence.

Javi Garcia prefers a 4-2-3-1 formation and he has the creative players to play in such a way. Will Hughes, Nathaniel Chalobah and Marvin Zeegelaar were smart buys from last season. Andre Carrillo and Gerard Deulofeu provide speed and trickery.

Abdoulaye Doucoure has signed a new five-year contract which is possibly the best bit of business Watford have done this season. He is the key man in midfield providing protection and goals.

It will be a tough season for Watford but they might just scrape through.

West Ham United:

Manuel Pellegrini and excellent summer business has given a different feel to West Ham going into this season.

Pellegrini has won a title and brought in players that he has identified to cover the weak spots. Lukasz Fabianski should cover the goalkeeper area. Jack Wilshere, whilst a fitness gamble, brings creativity in midfield and is still only 26. Andriy Yarmolenko should provide trickery. The biggest excitement is around £35m record signing Felipe Anderson. He is only 25 but completed the most dribbles in Italy last season. Carlos Sanchez and Lucas Perez will provide depth in the squad and an opportunity for Pellegrini to change things up. He has options.

Pellegrini has been brought in to play attacking football and he has been backed with over £100m in the market.

He favours a 4-2-3-1 formation and will likely start with Marko Arnautovic up front. West Ham, with Jack Wilshere, Mark Noble and Carlos Sanchez will move to a more possession oriented style whilst still being swift on the counter-attack.

West Ham will hope Winston Reid can return quickly, easing the burden on the strong new signing Issa Diop. Manuel Lanzini is also ruled out for the start of the season.

Once he returns, the West Ham forward line looks tasty indeed.

Wolverhampton Wanderers:

It has been an exciting summer for Wolves with signings aplenty.

Portugal midfielder Joao Moutinho for only £5m, Rui Patricio comes in goal, Diogo Jota from Atletico Madrid will provide speed, Adama Traore will give creativity and pace and Raul Jimenez the goals.

Ruben Neves has a reputation for the outrageous but his passing will be the key to find these attacking players.

Nuno Santo has a tactical game setting up in a 3-4-3 which could provide greater defensive protection and control of the ball, allowing the forwards to flourish.

Conor Coady will be tested far more in the Premier League and will have to show he has the defensive ability to cope against the very best.

Another issue for Wolves could be adaptability. How quickly will these new players adapt to a much tougher and more physical league?

On paper, Wolves should survive. Can they do the summer investment justice?


World Cup 2018: Team by team preview

The greatest show on earth is here…all rights are reserved for this image ©

By Manish Pandey.

Group A:


Russia became the first team to qualify for the World Cup as the host nation.

Russia have some good players. Alan Dzagoev and Aleksandr Golovin from CSKA offer good quality on and off the ball. They also have a tactically shrewd manager in Stanislav Cherchesov. Russia will likely line up in a 3-5-1-1 formation with the onus on Fyodor Smolov to hold up the ball and allow the midfielders to break forward. Playing the lone striker role is never easy, so Smolov will have to be ready from the first whistle.

This is generally a very young team, with a few exceptions such as Sergei Ignashevich, Yuri Zhirkov and captain Igor Akinfeev.

They will be looking to take advantage of being the home team and not being in the toughest of groups. There is no genuine powerhouse team. Uruguay will represent the toughest challenge, but, facing the lowly ranked Saudi Arabia and an Egypt team without Mo Salah, Russia will feel confident that they can progress from the group stages.


Egypt have had a wonderful last few years. They reached the final of the 2017 African Cup of Nations and dominated a tough CAF qualifying group to make their third-ever World Cup. All the focus, however, is on the fitness of Mo Salah. For good reason as Egypt’s entire game plan revolves around Salah.

They are a team who defend deep and defend in numbers, looking to spring on the counter-attack using Salah who will almost always remain high. They have quality in other areas, with Trezeguet on the opposite side to Salah, and a good midfield in Mohamed Elneny, Tarek Hamed and Abdallah Said.

The key issue remains Salah’s fitness. Even if only half fit, it is likely he will play. It will be a tough ask for Egypt to progress without Salah, but if he can play and provide a few individual moments of brilliance, Egypt might just have a chance of making it out the group.

Saudi Arabia:

This is the lowest ranked team in the tournament. A 1-0 win over Japan in their last game ensured they finished ahead of Australia on goal difference. Bert van Marwijk, the coach who oversaw qualification has left the job. They are now led by Juan Antonio Pizzi, a more attacking coach than van Marwijk. He wants a more open style, but the unfortunate truth is that they do not have the players to carry out such a style.

Defensively, there is nothing to give confidence. Going forward they do not have a reliable goalscorer. It would be a surprise to see them win even one game. As it is, they will likely finish bottom of this group.


Uruguay are the favourites in this group. Oscar Tabarez is the very experienced and wily coach who is in his final tournament.

With Luis Suarez, Edinson Cavani and Diego Godin, Uruguay boast strong players in both boxes. Tabarez has led a shift from a more aggressive midfield style to a technical midfield. Matias Vecino has had a good season with Inter Milan, Federico Valverde can control the tempo of a game and Nahitan Nandez offers good quality from the right side.

Suarez is usually the banker for Uruguay in World Cups. Cavani will have a very important role to play, as his work rate will provide Uruguay with the tactical balance needed to ensure they do not become outnumbered in midfield. Likely to play a 4-4-2/4-4-1-1 system, Cavani is tactically the most important player.

This group is filled with unreliable defenders. Cavani and Suarez will be licking their lips at the prospect of facing Russia, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

Group B:


Spain are one of, if not the favourites, to win this World Cup. They have world-class talent from top to bottom. Defensively, they have arguably the best goalkeeper in David De Gea. They also have Cesar Azpilicueta, Sergio Ramos, Gerard Pique and Jordi Alba. Sergio Busquets, whilst slightly older and slower, still has all the qualities needed in midfield. David Silva and Andreas Iniesta are two of the finest midfielders around. Along with this experience, they have younger talent in striker Alvaro Morata, midfielders Marco Asensio, Isco and Koke.

Many in this team have the experience and know-how. They have been there and won it all. There is so much skill and talent in this Spain squad that they are rightly hotly tipped to qualify as group winners and win the entire tournament. It will be a modified version of tiki-taka in full flow, with this Spain team willing to take more risks than the team from 4 years ago.

It will be a tough first game against Portugal, but this group should not trouble Spain too much.


They are the reigning European champions. With a mixture of good fortune and tactical discipline, Portugal pulled off a successful Euro 2016. This time, they look worse on paper than they were two years ago.

The club form of many players has dropped. The team is still so reliant on Cristiano Ronaldo. His 15 goals in the qualification campaign ensured Portugal’s qualification.

Tactically, Fernando Santos will likely play a narrow 4-4-2 diamond midfield with Ronaldo playing upfront alongside Andre Silva. He may alter for the opening game against Spain, playing Ronaldo as a lone striker and playing another midfielder. Santos would love a draw in the opening game and back his team to win the remaining two. The centre-backs are older and less mobile which means the full-backs will not be able to bomb forward as frequently. This means less width going forward.

If Ronaldo turns up and has a storming tournament, Portugal will have the firepower to go far. If, however, Ronaldo has a quiet time, Portugal will struggle to leave the group.


Morocco are an exciting and rising football nation. They have an excellent coach in Herve Renard, who has won the Africa Cup of Nations twice. They have exciting midfielders and solid defenders.

Morocco’s outstanding defensive record puts them in a good position. Mehdi Benatia is one of the best centre-backs in the tournament, and right-back Nabil Dirar provides excellent runs forward. Nordin Amrabat is a tricky customer out wide and Hakim Ziyech on the left has shown glimpses of brilliance for Ajax.

Although they may not have an outstanding striker to guarantee goals, the excellent defence should offset that. If they can keep it tight at the back and find a few goals going forward, Morocco could be the surprise package at this World Cup.


Coached by the tactical master Carlos Queiroz, Iran are firmly the underdogs in Group B. They are very well organised and defensively solid, keeping 12 consecutive clean sheets through their qualification campaign.

Queiroz will set Iran up in a 4-5-1 formation, with a low block and many men behind the ball, looking to frustrate his opponents. The problem with this is that there are not many attackers with the skill to counter-attack effectively. Sardar Azmoun has a good international goalscoring record, but the greatest threat is probably winger Alireza Jahanbakhsh who is probably the most adept at counter-attack.

It will not be fun to watch Iran, and they will likely not qualify from this group, but nor will they be humiliated.

Group C:


France probably have the best squad of all at this tournament. Strength in depth across all areas with so many top players still being left at home.

Tactically, France manager Didier Deschamps has a dilemma. With many quality players to choose from, he has struggled to decide on his best XI and the system he should play. Antoine Griezmann would prefer a 4-2-3-1 or 4-4-1-1 where he could play as the No 10 behind a presence like Olivier Giroud. Paul Pogba, however, would prefer a 4-3-3 where he would have a free role. This dilemma is likely to see Deschamps rotate his system more often than not.

With the likes of Ousmane Dembele and Kylian Mbappe further forward and N’Golo Kante in midfield, France have a lot of energy and pace in the team. In defence, there is more speed, with Samuel Umtiti and Raphael Varane coming off good club seasons.

France should qualify from this group, but Deschamps will have to make sure that he settles on a tactically astute system for the latter stages of the competition.


Although Denmark needed the playoffs to qualify for the World Cup, they are the second favourites to qualify from this group.

The team is set up around the talents of Christian Eriksen. In a 4-2-3-1 formation, coach Age Hareide sets up with 2 holding midfielders, allowing Eriksen to roam and control the tempo of the game whilst also being able to bomb forward. Pione Sisto and Yussuf Poulsen give natural width and speed which gives Eriksen space in the middle to create chances.

Defensively, Denmark are well-organised, though prone to the occasional mistake. With the genius of Eriksen, Denmark should be able to get through and give the bigger teams something to think about.


Coached by Ricardo Gareca, Peru play an open and fast tempo brand of football. They have been handed a big boost as Paolo Guerrero, their all-time top goalscorer, has been allowed to play following multiple appeals after a failed drugs ban.

Andre Carillo and Edison Flores give natural width to this team, allowing Peru to stretch the play and dominate possession. The attacking style of Peru comes at a cost, however, with the other teams in this group being able to exploit the spaces they will leave. France and Denmark in particular have the players who can make the most of the open spaces that Peru will leave defensively.

Peru’s style of play makes them unpredictable which means they could cause an upset and find a way through.


Australia are the outsiders in this group. Coached by Bert van Marwijk, their style of play can be predicted by looking at van Marwijk’s style with the Netherlands in the 2010 World Cup. It will not be pretty or easy on the eye.

Australia’s strength is their midfield. Mile Jedinak works well with Aaron Mooy, with Robbie Kruse and Matthew Leckie providing experience from the last World Cup.

The lack of prowess both defensively and in attack hampers Australia and makes it obvious why van Marwijk will play in a negative way. Tim Cahill will provide a threat from the bench but there is no obvious goalscorer in the XI. Defensively, the Australians had a poor record in qualification and facing attackers from France, Denmark and Peru will not be an easy task.

Group D:


With the greatest of respect to the likes of Sergio Aguero, Angel Di Maria and Gonzalo Higuain, Argentina’s chances rest on the shoulders of Lionel Messi.

Jorge Sampaoli is a creative and exciting manager, though for this World Cup, he will have to be more conventional. Usually favouring an energetic style of play, Sampaoli does not have the players to play in such a way. Defenders such as Federico Fazio and Nicolas Tagliafico do not have the pace to play a high line. Nicolas Otamendi, whilst having a good season for Manchester City, has been exposed in 1v1 situations which can often happen in a high line.

The team is built around Messi. He will have the freedom to drift from the No 10 position, which requires the midfielders around him to be very tactically disciplined. Losing Manuel Lanzini is a blow because he is one of the smarter midfielders in the Argentina squad. Many of Argentina’s big names, such as Aguero, Di Maria, Higuain and Javier Mascherano have failed to bring their club form to the national team, which puts even more pressure on Messi.

A 6-1 loss to Spain in March showed the limitations of this team. Messi’s presence means Argentina can never be counted out. The lack of supporting quality, however, might mean success for Argentina this year could be a step too far, even with Messi.


Iceland’s performance at Euro 2016 was one of the stories of the tournament. They are happy to play direct and defensive football, not caring about how it may look on television.

Gylfi Sigurdsson is the most important player in this team, as he has the genuine quality to create chances through open play and through set pieces. Iceland will be well-organised defensively, with the defenders and midfielders working well to ensure protection. Coach Heimir Hallgrimson will likely use a 4-4-2 system, with 2 banks of 4 allowing defensive organisation. Going forward, Iceland will rely heavily on long balls and the famous long throws of Aron Gunnarsson.

The difficulty of the group means Iceland may not be able to emerge from this group. However, Iceland’s opponents will not find it easy to break through.


Croatia are one of the dark horses of this World Cup. They have one of the best midfields in the competition, with Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic. The likes of Marcelo Brozovic and Mateo Kovacic will provide good support in midfield to the outstanding Modric and Rakitic duo.

With Mario Mandzukic, a genuine world-class player, Croatia offer a threat in attack. Defensively, however, Croatia are quite weak. They have a goalkeeper in Danijel Subasic who often makes mistakes. The speed of the defence is on the slow side too. Off the pitch, there are also problems.

Zlatko Dalic was appointed as manager just before the playoffs so the chemistry between coach and players may not be strong. There is also a disconnect between fans and players due to ongoing corruption cases involving players.

Croatia often flatter to deceive. With some quality players, they tend to be much fancied to achieve great things, with the reality all so often being very different. If they can get their act together, they could cause a surprise in this World Cup.


Nigeria are a genuine counter-attacking team. Being in a tough group, it is not a bad thing for them to be set up to counter-attack.

Alex Iwobi, Victor Moses and Kelechi Iheanacho are three genuine Premier League players who offer speed and creativity going forward. This is complimented by a strong midfield consisting of Jon Obi Mikel and Wilfried Ndidi, both proven in the Premier League.

Defensively, Nigeria are not spectacular but satisfactory. They do not yet know who will be in goal with both Ikechukwu Ezenwa and Francis Uzoho not showing enough reliability.

Much like Iceland, Nigeria are not fancied to go through, but have enough quality to cause opposition teams a problem.

Group E:


This is not the Brazil of decades gone by. It is not samba football with the all thrilling flair of Ronaldinho, Kaka, Rivaldo and Ronaldo. It is more functional. The impact of the coach Tite should not be underestimated.

After the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics, Brazil as a sporting nation has been in a tough spot with corruption charges and underperformance. Tite has brought back the connect between the team and the fans.

The forward line of Brazil is the strength, with Neymar, Gabriel Jesus and Coutinho. There are adequate backups in Douglas Costa, Willian and Roberto Firmino. They also have a strong midfield, with Paulinho playing the role of the box-to-box midfielder, Fernandinho playing slightly more forward than at Manchester City and Casemiro playing the holding role. WIth Fred also an option, Brazil have talented options in both midfield and attack.

Defensively, however, is where Brazil have a problem. Dani Alves is out injured meaning he will likely be replaced by Danilo, who is not convincing defensively. Marcelo is an outstanding threat going forward but is often a liability defensively. The partnership of Thiago SIlva and Marquinhos is solid, with Alisson a good goalkeeper. As a unit, though, questions remain about this defence.

There is once again a lot of pressure and expectation on Neymar. He has recently recovered from an injury creating questions over his fitness. With the talent in this team, exiting the group should not be a problem. The reliance on individuals, however, means they may not be a team to bank on in the latter stages of the competition.


Switzerland will once again be an organised team. They are a good team defensively with excellent full backs in Stephan Lichtsteiner and Ricardo Rodriguez. Rodriguez also provides a threat with his set pieces.

In midfield, Switzerland are strong with limited creativity. In Valon Behrami, Granit Xhaka and Blerim Dzemaili, they have a solid midfield. The onus will once again be on Xherdan Shaqiri to provide the spark and moments of individual brilliance, much like he did in the 2014 World Cup.

Breel Embolo will provide speed going forward but a lack of a genuine goalscorer will hurt Switzerland. They will be aiming to get out of the group and anything beyond that will be seen as a bonus.

Costa Rica:

Costa Rica were one of the surprise packages at the last World Cup, winning a tough group including England, Italy and Uruguay. To write them off because they are the weakest team in the group would be a mistake.

It is very much a similar team to the last World Cup, with the 3-4-3 system remaining. Bryan Oviedo and Christian Gamboa are excellent wing-backs and Johnny Acosta, Oscar Duarte and Giancarlo Gonzalez have a good understanding of the back 3 system.

Costa Rica have two main attacking threats in Bryan Ruiz and Joel Campbell. Both tend to combine well in the counter-attack and work well with the two wing-backs.

With a strong defensive record and an ability to face down tough odds, Costa Rica will be difficult opponents to face and could make the knockout stages.


Serbia have a talented squad across all areas of the pitch. Their main challenge is finding consistency and cohesion within the group.

Defensively, Serbia have good defenders, a trait of the last 10 years in Serbian football. Proven quality in Branislav Ivanovic and Aleksandar Kolarov with the promising Matija Nastasic.

In midfield, Nemanja Matic and Luka Milivojevic are strong midfielders and could dominate most of the group games. Further forward, Dusan Tadic and the much talked about Sergej Milinkovic-Savic will have the responsibility of creating chances. Aleksandar Mitrovic is the big man up front and will rely on balls in the box to get goals.

There is a lot of expectation on this team. Yet, the likes of Sergej Milinkovic-Savic are still raw and should not be burdened with too much pressure. The change of captain from Ivanovic to Kolarov cannot have helped.

The variety in this group makes it an intriguing watch.

Group F:


Germany are the reigning world champions and Germany are a better team than 4 years ago, on paper at least.

Believe it or not, Germany did have flaws in their team last time. An issue in defence, midfield and attack. This time around, they are better placed. A defensive unit consisting of Jonas Kimmich, Jerome Boateng, Mats Hummels, Jonas Hector and Manuel Neuer appears very strong.

A midfield of Toni Kroos, Sami Khedira, Mesut Ozil, Thomas Muller and Marco Reus has everything. In attack, Timo Werner gives speed and there are very good alternatives in Julian Draxler, Julian Brandt and Mario Gomez. The omission of Leroy Sane has raised questions, particularly after an outstanding club season, but his form for Germany has rarely been good and he has not yet found a way to fit into Joachim Low’s system.

The biggest advantage Germany have over their rivals is that they are a team that can play in a variety of ways. They are as adept in a possession style as they are to a counter-attacking style. They can press well or they can sit back.

The main concern for Germany will be fitness. Boateng and Neuer have only recently recovered from injury so will be lacking match sharpness. Mesut Ozil has missed games in the closing weeks of the season. Other than that, Germany are very well placed to retain their title.


Mexico will provide a familiar style of team at this World Cup. They will be a team with speed, creativity and intensity. Coached by Juan Carlos Osorio, they have tactical variety being able to shift between a 4-3-3 and 3-4-3.

Midfield is the strength for this team. Hector Herrera was excellent at the last World Cup and has had a stellar club season. Andres Guardado is the driving force from the midfield and is capable of brilliance.

Going forward, Javier Hernandez will be the key man once again. He is a proven goalscorer and his speed and instincts will be crucial for Mexico. They also have players who can produce moments of magic, such as Hirving Lozano, Giovani dos Santos, Raul Jimenez and Carlos Vela.

The tactical flexibility and style of Mexico will make them an interesting watch. They may not reach the latter stages of the competition, but they will certainly entertain.


A Sweden team without Zlatan Ibrahimovic. They do not really have any spectacular individual players who can light up a game. What they do have, though, is a great team spirit and a coach in Janne Andersson who has trained his players to execute the basics at a very high level.

Sweden are well-organised, playing a direct 4-4-2. They often go long to Marcus Berg, utilising the second ball and knock downs. They have individuals who have good skills. Seb Larsson is a set piece specialist who can deliver from free-kicks and corners. Emil Forsberg is a good winger who can beat a man and deliver quality crosses.

It might seem simple. 4-4-2 is often seen as outdated. For teams without extraordinary talents, though, simplicity is often the best way for them to cause problems to the opposition.

South Korea:

Much like Sweden, South Korea are a team lacking quality across the pitch, with the notable exception of Son Heung-min of Tottenham Hotspur. They will also play 4-4-2, though having a greater emphasis on the technical side.

Ki Sung-yeung is a midfielder who provides calm and can help create chances for the likes of Son to take advantage of. There are high hopes in South Korea for Lee Jae-sung, but he is still young and unproven.

Defensively, South Korea are poor and had a poor end to the qualification campaign. Much will depend on Son and whether South Korea can get enough players to support him so he can cause damage in the opposition third. It is unlikely they will progress from this group.

Group G:


Belgium are once again one of the fancied teams for this World Cup. They have genuine world class talent through the team. Their main challenge will be finding a structure to get the best out of these players.

Roberto Martinez has attempted to solve Belgium’s problem of having plenty of centre backs by playing a 3 man defence. Vincent Kompany, Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld occupy those positions but all three have  fitness issues. The downside to this system is not having proper wing-backs, with Thomas Meunier and Yannick Carrasco playing in those positions.

It is in attack where Belgium are strong. Axel Witsel and Kevin de Bruyne will play in midfield. Whilst this may leave them open defensively, it provides them with plenty of creativity to supply the attackers. In Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku, Belgium have two outstanding attackers who can play both pushed forward and on the counter-attack.

They should qualify from this group quite easily, but their defensive shortcomings could be exposed against the better teams later in the competition.


There is optimism around England at this World Cup. Not because people think they can win the competition, but because this is a young team that has an identity.

Gareth Southgate has made it clear he wants England to play with the ball, play out from the back and dominate possession. He also favours a back 3 system. The system is innovative, but questions remain whether the players are good enough to play the positions.

The possible defenders who could in the back 3 are John Stones, who did not play much for Manchester City at the end of the season, Gary Cahill, who is not good enough on the ball, Harry Maguire, who had a good season at Leicester City, Kyle Walker, who is not a natural centre-back and Phil Jones, who makes errors.

At wing-back, England have options with Kyle Walker, Kieran Trippier, Danny Rose and Ashley Young all good enough to perform that role.

It is in midfield that England have a big weakness. There is no natural playmaker, with Jordan Henderson and Eric Dier both workhorses and Fabian Delph not used to playing in midfield after a season at full back. England will struggle to control the tempo in games, particularly when facing teams who will defend such as Panama and Tunisia.

Going forward, England may only have one world-class striker in Harry Kane, but they do have several young players with talent in abundance. 3 of Kane, Marcus Rashford, Jesse Lingard, Raheem Sterling and Dele Alli will start in Russia, giving England excellent starting options and bench strength.

England should qualify from this group and will likely falter when tested against the bigger stages in the later stages of the tournament, but, cautious optimism is the order of the day.


It is a debut World Cup for Panama. They are not expected to qualify from the group and simply reaching this stage is a great achievement for them.

There is a lot of footballing experience in this Panama squad. Coach Hernan Dario Gomez will likely opt for a very defensive system, playing 5 at the back and keeping the midfield and attack quite deep. They do have experienced quality up front in Blas Perez and Luis Tejeda, who despite being over 35, have got a knack for scoring goals for Panama.

It will be tough for Panama. They will likely spend lots of time without the ball and behind the ball, with little obvious attacking plan. The wingers and midfielders are gutsy but lacking skill.

To gain even a point in their debut World Cup will be an achievement and will likely determine the way they play.


Like Panama, Tunisia will likely be defensive and aim to play for draws. They are a team lacking individual brilliance and should not cause too much of an issue for the bigger teams in the group.

In defence, Tunisia will be organised and well-drilled. The full backs will keep the line ensuring they stay compact and the two holding midfielders will sit deep attempting to cut out any danger.

In attack, Tunisia will be relying on Naim Sliti, who offers speed and could pose a threat on either flank. Wahbi Khazri is the most creative player in Tunisia’s team and he also provides a danger through set piece opportunities, which will be Tunisia’s best chance to threaten the opposition’s goal.

Like Panama, it is unlikely Tunisia will cause much of a problem for both England and Belgium.

Group H:


Poland are a team with a few big names, notably Robert Lewandowski, which means they are firmly in contention to make it out of this difficult group.

Lewandowski is perhaps the best out and out striker in the world, and whilst his international form has not always replicated his club form, he is the kind of player who could take Poland through on his own.

Under coach Adam Nawalka, Poland will play in a similar way to previous tournaments. They will line up with 2 holding midfielders and 2 wingers who will be energetic enough to bomb back and forth. Grzegorz Krychowiak will be one of those midfielders, and whilst having a tough season with West Brom, he has the characteristics to play the holding role effectively.

Supporting Lewandowski in trying to create goals will be Kamil Grosicki, who has the pace to counter-attack effectively. Defensively, Poland have been poor. It is the lack of an organised defence which could prove costly to Poland’s chances to qualify from this group.

A difficult group means results could go in Poland’s favour, but they need to address the weaknesses or else find themselves going home very early.


Senegal are a physical side who can counter-attack very effectively, which could just work in their favour. In a tough group, this style could see them going through.

Coached by Aliou Cisse, Senegal are a disciplined and organised 4-3-3 side who use possession well. Cisse is a smart tactician and understands the World Cup, having captained his country to the quarter-finals in 2002.

Midfield is the strong suit for this team, with Premier League duo Idrissa Gueye and Cheickhou Kouyate providing plenty of energy to win the ball and press forward quickly. They link well with the forwards, with Sadio Mane being the key player for Senegal. There is a big expectation for Mane to replicate his club form for Senegal. With the midfield of Gueye and Kouyate and forward line of Mane, Mame Biram Diouf, Senegal have an effective counter-attack.

Defensively, Senegal will rely heavily on Kalidou Koulibaly, who plays for Napoli. Other than him, there is little to give confidence in Senegal’s defensive abilities, with Abdoulaye Diallo being a rocky figure in goal.


Colombia are the favourites to qualify from this group and have a team which could cause problems for some of the bigger teams in the later stages of the competition.

Coached by Jose Pekerman, Colombia will play an exciting style of football. They will have a high line with the speedy duo of Yerry Mina and Davinson Sanchez in defence. They will play with two holding midfielders to allow James Rodriguez the freedom to roam and create from the No 10 position. He is the key man in this system, as he was the outstanding player in the 2014 World Cup and often provides the energetic and creative link from midfield to attack. This will be a 4-2-3-1 formation, though Pekerman has often used a 4-3-2-1 in tougher away games.

Up front, the emphasis will once again be on Radamel Falcao. He is a proven goalscorer for Colombia and is in good form leading into the World Cup.  Juan Cuadrado offers a threat from the flank and will be hoping to display some of the form he showed before and after his move to Chelsea.

Defensively, Colombia are well-structured, though David Ospina has been making mistakes in goal, which Colombia can ill-afford at this tournament. They will be a tough team to beat and should make it to the knockout stages.


Japan will be an excellent technical side to watch, though their preparation has been far from ideal. Akira Nishino became coach only 2 months ago, which leaves a bit of a mystery around tactics and system.

Japan have some wonderful individual players. Shinji Kagawa will likely play in the No 10 role as a playmaker, and he has the ability to run with the ball, which will be key for Japan’s counter-attack. Keisuke Honda is a World Cup hero for Japan having scored at the last two, and he will once again provide a threat from the right side. Shinji Okazaki is a hardworker and though he may not get the goals, he provides Japan with the energy they need in the final third of the pitch.

Makoto Hasebe is a key figure in this team. He provides calmness in midfield and has an excellent range of passing. He also has a tactical flexibility which helps Japan play different systems. Hasebe has often dropped deep into defence allowing a 3 man defence to be played. This adds to the unpredictability of trying to set up against Japan.

Defensively, Japan are a mixed bag. They have solidity in the central zone with Maya Yoshida of Southampton and Tomoaki Makino providing a strong core. In the full back position, however, Yuto Nagatomo is no longer at his best and his lack of speed could hurt Japan in a group with devastating counter-attackers.

Japan could make it through this group, but they will likely rely on other results to secure their place in the knockouts.

Premier League Preview: 2017-2018

It all begins again…all rights are reserved for this image ©

By Manish Pandey.


For the sixth consecutive season, Arsenal’s opening game is at home. They have only managed to win 1 of those matches. For Arsenal, a fast start is crucial. They lost at home to Liverpool early and ultimately lost out on a Champions League place by 1 point.

Arsenal’s aim this season has to be to get back into the top 4. They have made a good start with the much-needed signing of striker Alexandre Lacazette. It seems as though Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil will remain at the club.

There remains a huge deficiency in midfield. Granit Xhaka and Aaron Ramsey performed well at the back-end of last season, but questions remain over their consistency in form and fitness. Francis Coquelin and Mohamed Elneny are good squad players but neither are good enough to be starting. Jack Wilshere’s fitness will always be an issue and Santi Cazorla, whilst providing guile in midfield, cannot do it all himself. A midfield signing needs to be priority before the transfer window closes.

From a tactical point of view, it seems Arsenal will continue with the back 3 that Wenger introduced at the end of last season. New signing Sead Kolasinac should help reinforce the defence with his physical prowess and enthusiasm on the ball. He has already endeared himself to Arsenal fans with a goal in the Community Shield. Arsenal will also have to adjust to a new Thursday-Sunday schedule, which could go a long way towards deciding their domestic season.

The atmosphere around Arsenal should be far less hostile than last season, with the certainty of Wenger’s future, for at least another 2 years.

Key man: Alexandre Lacazette. As always, Sanchez will be an important figure, but it is Lacazette who will make the difference in the box. He has been bought to score goals, and it is goals Arsenal need.


Eddie Howe has shown an appetite to work, improve and constantly evolve. With Howe leading the way, there is no reason why Bournemouth cannot continue their rise since promotion.

They have bought well in the transfer market, with Asmir Begovic, Jermain Defoe and Nathan Aké strengthening the core of the team. Goals should not be an issue for this free-flowing Bournemouth team, with Josh King looking to improve on last season’s heroics and the arrival of Defoe adding more goals to the team.

Defensively, Bournemouth can always look fragile because of how attacking they are, but the arrival of Ake and Begovic should provide some more certainty and discipline.

Key man: Jermain Defoe. With his track record of goals, there is no reason why Bournemouth cannot finish in the top 10 this season.

Brighton and Hove Albion:

A wonderful story of promotion, Brighton and Hove Albion start off as favourites for relegation. With Chris Hughton, they have a smart manager leading the way.

The key to survival will be home form, and the need to make the Amex stadium a fortress, in a similar way to Burnley.

The signings of Mathew Ryan, Markus Suttner and Pascal Gross are low-risk but could potentially be turn out as smart buys. The loan signing of Izzy Brown from Chelsea provides pace in attack. The injury to midfielder Beram Kayal is a blow, as he is expected to be out for 2 months.

Glenn Murray, Steve Sidwell and Liam Rosenior will be crucial as they have experience of the top flight from previous clubs.

Key man: Glenn Murray. Newly promoted sides often struggle with goals, so the pressure will be on Murray to get the goals to keep Brighton up.


Sean Dyche is the key man at Burnley. He has created a template for his players to follow and last season was a high point. In order to improve on last season, Burnley will need to vastly improve their form away from home. Whilst being one of the best in the league at home, they were one of the worst whilst travelling.

The signings of Jack Cork and Jon Walters will provide further top-flight experience. Whilst the loss of Michael Keane and Andre Gray is a blow, the combined £43 million fee could be used to invest in an ‘X-Factor’ player who could make the difference in games Burnley should be winning. Burnley need to invest or else they could find themselves in trouble.

Burnley appear weaker than last season, but Dyche’s management style could once again be the difference.

Key man: Tom Heaton. He saved many points last season and will need to do the same this season.


The reining champions have it all to do if they are to retain their crown from last season. Chelsea were outstanding in Antonio Conte’s first season, but have had a shaky summer.

Recent history shows Chelsea are not as good defending a title. The summer has not been as good for Conte as he would have liked. The failure to sign Romelu Lukaku, the failure to sever ties with Diego Costa, the failure of Conte to keep Nemanja Matic and the failure of the boardroom to satisfy Conte.

Chelsea will have a much tougher fixture schedule with the addition of European football. This means they need to reinforce their squad. The arrivals of Alvaro Morata, Tiemoué Bakayoko and Antonio Rüdiger are a good start, but they need more. Faced with more games, Chelsea have let go of John Terry, Nathan Ake, Kurt Zouma, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, along with Matic and a probable departure of Costa.

It does not look like Chelsea are in a good way starting this season, however to count out an Antonio Conte team would be a mistake. He has shown a willingness to work, innovate and change. This Chelsea team will still be a force.

Key man: Eden Hazard. Once back from surgery, Hazard will be the key as a genuine world-class talent.

Crystal Palace:

Frank de Boer is the new man in the hotseat after Sam Allardyce and he will want to find a working formula quickly. De Boer is intent on improvement in playing style and the players will need to make a tactical adjustment.

There is change on the way with the arrival of ball-playing defender Jaïro Riedewald from Ajax and a one season loan of Ruben Loftus-Cheek. De Boer favours a 3-4-3 formation and will need another forward and wing-back to ensure his squad is sufficiently stocked.

Once again, the core from last season will be vital for Crystal Palace. The pace and skill of Wilfried Zaha and Andros Townsend, Mamadou Sakho at the back, the industry of Luka Milivojevic in midfield, and Christian Benteke’s power up front.

De Boer is here for the long-term, so he will need to be allowed time.

Key man: Wilfred Zaha. He is the maverick who makes things happen for Palace.


Everton have spent over £80 million in this window and look to have the determination to improve. Koeman made an impact last season with his tactical flexibility and ruthless management style.

The signings of Jordan Pickford, Michael Keane and Davy Klassen show a willingness to spend the big money, with £50 million rated Gylfi Sigurdsson also on Koeman’s radar. Bringing Wayne Rooney back to Everton on a free is a big move. Rooney, whilst not the player of old, still has the experience and ability to score/assist key goals.

The loss of Romelu Lukaku to Manchester United leaves a void the size of 25 goals a season. It is unrealistic to expect Rooney or new signing Sandro Ramirez from Malaga to fill that gap, therefore Koeman will need to dip into the market for a proven striker.

Everton have a great core of players and have been strengthened this season numerically. In terms of quality, the players will need to show consistency in the league for it to be judged a successful season.

Key man: Wayne Rooney. So often the key man and it is no different this season. Where will he play and how well will he play are the two questions everyone has. He has a point to prove.

Huddersfield Town:

Huddersfield have the tag of underdogs, but through the years, they have come through spectacularly. One of the key reasons for this is the manager, David Wagner. Wagner has created a culture of togetherness between the players, fans and boardroom.

They needed to recruit big in the transfer window and they have done well so far. They brought in 9 players before pre-season and broke their own transfer record 4 times. The purchase of Steven Mounie and Laurent Depoitre offers goals and physicality.

Signing Aaron Mooy permanently offers smart possession in midfield and Tom Ince provides trickery and creativity on the flanks.

The big challenge for Huddersfield will be defensively. They will be tested more and will need to show more solidity. The signing of combative defender Mathias Jorgensen will help.

From a tactical perspective, Wagner prefers a high-press and possession game, much like his compatriot Jurgen Klopp. Yet, as the playoff final showed, Wagner can adapt to a more counter-attacking style.

Key man: Steven Mounie. Goals are the currency for any striker, and Huddersfield will need their record signing to score them to safety.

Leicester City:

From the highs of winning the title to the lows of being in a relegation fight to the satisfaction of survival. This season will see a Leicester City aiming for a mid-table finish.

The transfer activity by Leicester suggests a need to be more comfortable than last season. The signings of Eldin Jakupovic and Harry Maguire from Hull City gives quality and depth. Vicente Iborra will bring technique and versatility. Kelechi Iheanacho brings pace and goals.

They have had a tough pre-season and Riyad Mahrez wants to leave. If they keep Mahrez, and Vardy, Wes Morgan and Danny Drinkwater can maintain a consistent level, Leicester should avoid relegation quite easily.

Key man: Jamie Vardy. He epitomises the spirit of Leicester and when he plays well, Leicester play well.


Playing a high intensity brand of football, Liverpool are a joy to watch when in full flow. Yet this was partly to blame for Liverpool falling away from a title challenge. In the busy winter period, Liverpool looked exhausted, owing to the lack of depth in their squad.

Liverpool are in good shape, stable and used to the manager’s methods and style. They have also bolstered options in the attacking department with the signing of £37 million Mohamed Salah. Much will depend on whether Philippe Coutinho will stay after strong interest from Barcelona. The prospect of Salah, Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Coutinho terrorising defences is frightening.

Deficiencies remain in midfield and defence. The lack of a proper holding midfielder and question marks over the fitness of Jordan Henderson and Adam Lallana creates doubt over whether Liverpool can mount a consistent challenge. Andrew Robertson arrives to provide James Milner with competition at left-back, but there has been no centre-back arriving- Virgil Van Dijk has remained elusive so far. Liverpool need to bolster these two areas if they are to have any success.

With an increased number of games this season due to European football – provided Liverpool get through the qualifier against Hoffenheim- Liverpool will need a deeper squad to avoid the mistakes of last season.

Key man: Philippe Coutinho. If he stays, he can catapult Liverpool to the next level.

Manchester City:

Manchester City have only one problem: the defence. They score goals, they play attractive football, but last season, Pep Guardiola refused to focus on the defensive side of the game.

City have been very active in the transfer market, signing 3 full backs but letting 4 full backs leave. Kyle Walker, Benjamin Mendy and Danilo replaced Pablo Zabaleta, Bacary Sagna, A Kolarov and Gael Clichy. Bernardo Silva comes in to bolster an already strong attacking line up and Ederson comes in as the new first choice goalkeeper.

Despite this spending, Manchester City still look weak in defence. Only Vincent Kompany, John Stones and Nicolás Otamendi remain from last season’s defensive line. Kompany’s penchant for injury and the inconsistency of Stones suggests City have a long way to go before they are defensively ready to mount a consistent challenge.

City have spent plenty of money (£363 million by Guardiola across the last 3 windows) and Guardiola has had a full season with this team. With the likes of David Silva, Kevin de Bruyne, Jesus, Sergio Aguero and Bernardo Silva, this team should be winning trophies. There can be no more excuses.

Key man: Kevin de Bruyne. The midfield maestro is at the centre of most things good on the football pitch. His vision and creativity will guarantee goals.

Manchester United:

After winning the League Cup and Europa League last season, Manchester United will want to vastly improve their fortunes in the Premier League. A 6th place finish is nowhere near good enough, and with further investment in the summer, United should really be challenging for the title.

The arrival of Romelu Lukaku for £77 million is aimed at getting more goals into a team lacking in goals. Although Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored in excess of 30 goals last season, his conversion rate was very poor for a top-level striker. It will be interesting to see the dynamic between Lukaku and Marcus Rashford this season. Most United fans will not want to see Rashford shunted on the left.

The purchase of Nemanja Matic will give United a stronger physical protection in midfield, and will reduce the reliance United have on Michael Carrick. It should also allow Paul Pogba to flourish with Pogba now free to create further up field. Victor Lindelof will need time to settle in defence.

Tactically, Jose Mourinho has experimented with a 3-5-2 in pre-season although his likely formation is going to be 4-3-3. Mourinho, much like Guardiola can no longer make excuses. He has had a year with his team and spent plenty of money. Manchester United should at the very least, be competing for the title.

Key man: Paul Pogba. This can be Pogba’s breakout season. He has all the tools, he just needs to show consistency.

Newcastle United:

With Rafa Benitez in charge, Newcastle have every chance of staying up this season. However, obvious disagreements between the manager and board could hinder what should be a promising time for the club.

With the exception of Christian Atsu on loan from Chelsea, Newcastle’s transfer dealings have been underwhelming. This is perhaps demonstrated in the singing of Javier Manquillo, a former Atlético Madrid full-back who was on loan at Sunderland and ultimately lost his place to Billy Jones.

There is talent in this Newcastle squad with the likes of Jonjo Shelvey and Dwight Gayle, but they need more before the window closes or else they could be in for a long season.

Tactically, there will be much reliance on Benitez’s skill and hours he likes to spend on the training pitch. A more defensive style of play with the main mode of attack being on the counter-attack being the likely method for Newcastle this season.

Key man: Dwight Gayle. With Newcastle likely to be playing on the counter-attack this season, Gayle’s pace will be key. The question remains whether or not he has the ability to score enough goals to keep Newcastle up.


With a new manager in Mauricio Pellegrino, Southampton fans will be hoping for points and a far more exciting brand of football than they saw last season. However, this summer has been dominated by the transfer saga surrounding Virgil Van Dijk.

Van Dijk is one of the best defenders in the league, but he clearly does not want to stay and Southampton would do well to get rid of him for the £50 million fee, which they could then reinvest.

Southampton have only signed defender Jan Bednarek and midfielder Mario Lemina this season. They really need to sign a striker before the window closes considering the lack of goals last season. Although there is an argument to be made that it was down to the style of play rather than the individual qualities of the players.

As always, Southampton’s success will depend much on the youngsters they bring through. Players such as Jack Ward-Prowse and Jack Stephens will be vital this season.

Key man: Manolo Gabbiadini. He exploded onto the scene late last season, and his goals in a team lacking goals will be important for Southampton.

Stoke City:

Stoke have transitioned from a physical unit under Tony Pulis to a far more expansive team under Mark Hughes. Last season, however, demonstrated a problem in the goals department and results department.

Stoke could only manage 44 points. Whereas the old Stoke would have been resolute against the likes of Manchester City and Tottenham, last season saw comfortable wins for both. The summer has seen Stoke’s squad losing talent rather than adding talent.

Marko Arnautovic, Glenn Whelan and Jon Walters have all left the club. Incoming players include Darren Fletcher, Kurt Zouma and Bruno Martins-Indi. These are three very good players but are not players who will push Stoke to the next level.

They look very thin in the attacking department. Xherdan Shaqiri as talented as he is, has fitness issues. Arnautovic has gone. Peter Crouch is 37. Ramadan Sobhi is inexperienced. Much will rely on Sadio Berahino and whether he can rediscover the form and confidence he had from a few seasons ago, before his issues.

Key man: Sadio Berahino. Stoke need goals and Berahino has to provide them.

Swansea City:

Swansea survived last season thanks to a Paul Clement inspired revival. This summer though, has seen a long transfer saga around the future of Gylfi Sigurdsson. Sigurdsson is Swansea’s best player and is understandably wanted by clubs higher up.

Assuming he is sold, Swansea will need to use his transfer fee wisely to ensure they are able to fill the shoes of someone who has been involved in 53 of the 133 goals Swansea have scored in the last 3 seasons.

Swansea’s transfer business has potential. Tammy Abraham on loan from Chelsea provides pace and trickery. Roque Mesa is very smart in possession. Players already at the club will be crucial. The likes of Ki, Tommy Carroll and Fernando Llorente will be crucial.

Defensively, Swansea look thin despite the promise of Alfie Mawson. They will need to continue with the organisation and discipline that Clement has brought to the club if they are to have an easier time this season.

Key man: Fernando Llorente. Llorente’s goals kept Swansea up and Swansea will be desperately hoping for him to stay.

Tottenham Hotspur:

Spurs have had a shaky summer, although there does not seem to be much concern at the club itself. The departure of Kyle Walker, the unsettled and injured Danny Rose and the ligament injury of Kieran Trippier leaves Spurs desperately short at full-back.

Although they have not brought any players in – they will need to if they want to compete with the best- they have still managed to hold onto their 3 prized assets in Harry Kane, Hugo Lloris and Dele Alli.

Spurs will have to adjust to Wembley Stadium, where they did not have a happy time last season. The bigger pitch will also make it much harder for the players to continue in the high intensity and high-pressing style of play.

Spurs have most things in place. With the likes of Kane, Lloris, Alli, Eriksen, Vertonghen, Son, Dembele and Wanyama, they are strong. There is not a lot to change at the moment, but the difficulties will come when the depth of the squad will be tested.

Key man: Harry Kane. His goal record is supreme and has the ability to single-handedly win Spurs the league.


With a new manager in Marco Silva who impressed in the league with Hull City last season, there is a renewed optimism at the club.

Watford have been smart in the transfer market so far. Andre Gray, Tom Cleverley and Nathaniel Chalobah will add quality and depth to the squad and starting lineup. Although the defence had a torrid time last season, with Silva’s coaching, it is nothing that cannot be fixed.

The reliance on Troy Deeney has been lessened with the arrival of Gray and also gives the attack more variety.

A Marco Silva team will be well organised, hard to beat and tactically sound.

Key man: Troy Deeney. He is the leader and main striker.

West Brom:

Tony Pulis has renewed his contract which should, in theory, guarantee survival for West Brom. They should have finished in 8th but for a terrible May finished in 10th.

The departure of Darren Fletcher was a shock. He will need to be replaced with another experienced midfielder or Jake Livermore will have to take up the mantle. Going forward, the signing of Jay Rodriguez should help with the goals, especially if he plays in partnership with Salomon Rondon. With Nacer Chadli and Matty Phillips, West Brom do have a threatening forward line.

As always, all eyes will be on Pulis in the final few days of the transfer window, where he historically does the majority of his business.

Pulis will have this team well-drilled and organised and avoiding relegation.

Key man: Jay Rodriguez. It will be intriguing to see how this promising youngster gets on in a new team and if he can stay away from injuries.

West Ham:

After a torrid first season at the London Stadium, compounded by a terrible 2016 summer transfer window, West Ham seem far more stable this time around.

They have signed players of genuine quality in Pablo Zabaleta, Joe Hart, Marko Arnautovic and Chicharito. In that group of players, there is an improvement in defensive solidity, creativity and goal-scoring. West Ham have signed proven players with very little unknown.

With Michail Antonio, Arnautovic and Manuel Lanzini supplementing attacks, there is a good variety of skill and power.

Defensively, West Ham need to improve their discipline. Slaven Bilic has to take a big share of the blame, as he has looked defensively inept when setting up his team.

West Ham should have enough for a top 10 finish, if they do not, it will be the end for Bilic.

Key man: Chicharito Hernandez. Goals are what he lives by and goals are what West Ham need.


Champions: Manchester City

Champions League: Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool.

Relegation: Burnley, Huddersfield and Brighton & Hove Albion.

LSESU Hindu Society’s Year of Sporting Dominance

A strong team…all rights are reserved for this image ©

By Manish Pandey.

At any National Hindu Students’ Forum (NHSF UK) sports event, be it the London & South Zone sports competition or the National sports competition, the smallest of mentions of LSE causes trepidation. Such is the sporting dominance of LSE’s Hindu Society.

This season, LSE competed in 4 sports: Badminton, Football, Kabaddi (both male and female) and Netball. A total of 10 titles on the line across the two major tournaments.

Numbers often tell a story and it is no different on this occasion. Of those 10 titles, LSE reached the final 8 times, culminating in 6 titles. Considering over 40 universities participated, it is fair to say that this achievement is outstanding.

Let us start with badminton. In the London and South Zone competition, the pairing of Serena Popat and Sagar Ghelani reached the final, playing impressively in the lead up to the final. In the final itself, however, they were not at their best, with unforced errors handing the advantage and ultimately the title to Brunel.

Yet, on the biggest stage of them all, in the National tournament, LSE got their revenge and in some style. Rama Patel came in to partner Serena Popat, and the combination of Serena’s finesse and Rama’s power saw LSE obliterate the opposition and surge their way to the final.

It is a testament to the depth of talent at LSE, that they could also field their ‘B’ team in the competition. The team of Devi Rughani and Rishav Shah showed their mettle and swept their way to the final, to set up an all LSE final. Forget Brunel, Loughborough, DMU and all the other teams. This was LSE all the way.

A final, played in the right spirit saw Popat and Patel emerge victorious. There was no shame in losing to the better team for Devi Rughani and Rishav Shah. Indeed, the responsibility is now on them to maintain LSE’s proud record for the foreseeable future.

Proud records and the Netball team go hand in hand. We talk of dominance, and LSE’s Hindu Society netball team has been absolutely dominant in recent times. Prior to 2016, they were winners at London & South Zone in 2013 and 2014. At Nationals, their record is even more impressive, with titles in 2006, 2007, 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2015. Despite an ever changing team through the years, the Netball team has maintained its winning DNA.

The 2016-17 season has been a spectacular one for the netball team. Led by inspirational captain Sona Shah, they have never looked like losing. In any successful sports team, it is crucial for players to understand the role they need to play.

With this netball team, every member seemed to understand their role which meant there was no drop in quality even with team rotation. It was because of these fundamentals that the players were able to play some truly stunning netball.

At London and South Zone, the speed of passing, intensity of interceptions and the quickness of transitions from attack > defence and defence > attack was outstanding. It was reminiscent of the Barcelona football team in their prime. With the desperation of Camshaeini Curumoorthy diving around to intercept the ball in the final, a deserved victory came for LSE.

Nationals represent a completely different challenge. More teams, more quality and a much bigger challenge. Yet, for this LSE team, there was no hint of being fazed by the big occasion. They cruised through the opening matches scoring goal after goal after goal. They got over the line in a close semi-final vs Warwick, with their big match experience coming to the fore. In the final, against a talented Leeds team, LSE ran out as 5-3 winners to secure yet another trophy and complete the double for only the second time in their history.

The champion netballers…all rights are reserved for this image ©

The football team has a proud history and this season has seen a continuation of the wonderful progress they have made in recent years. At London and South Zone, the LSE ‘A’ team implemented a tactically sound gameplan which led to them not conceding a single goal throughout the tournament. This unbelievable defensive record is nothing new. From November 2014 to November 2016, the LSE ‘A’ team did not concede in a single tournament game.

With the solidity of Himanshu Odedra at the back, this gameplan ensured LSE reached the final of London and South Zone. A final often hinges on individual moments and this final was no different. Taken all the way to a penalty shootout after neither team could gain an advantage in normal time, it came down to the quality of the penalties.

With LSE on the brink of losing, their goalkeeper, Akshar, pulled off stunning saves in the shootout, with star striker Mayur Patel ensuring LSE converted their pressure penalty. London and South Zone Champions, LSE maintained their prestigious footballing record.

Winners…all rights are reserved for this image ©

Nationals saw the arrival of LSE’s ‘B’ team as a formidable unit. Despite losing their goalkeeper, Manish Pandey, at the last minute due to injury, the ‘B’ team did not show any signs of nerves. With Sagar Ghelani at the back, alongside the surging Yusuf Sabir, the team had a solid foundation from which to attack. With the energy and skill of Jeet Vaghela, Nilesh Chhatwani and Nikhil Mehta going forward, LSE had a well-balanced team.

A series of 1-0 wins against Manchester, Nottingham Trent and Queen Mary saw LSE emerge as group winners and into the quarter-finals. The highlight of the entire tournament was the goal scored by Nikhil Mehta, a sumptuous left-footed volley after a spell of quick possession by the team. Facing Westminster in the the quarter-finals, LSE B were beset by injuries to Jeet, Nilesh and Yusuf, whose heroic efforts were unable to overcome the talented Westminister team, who edged past 1-0.

Considering this was the first national tournament for the B team, the performance levels and quarter-final finish was a good achievement and importantly provides an excellent base for future success.

The most interest, as usual, was focused on the fortunes of the Kabaddi teams. For the first time this season, we saw a male and a female team being allowed to compete.

LSE’s male Kabaddi team is widely recognised as being one of the best in the country, finishing as runners up in the 2016 national tournament. At the London and South Zone competition, LSE continued their great run in Kabaddi with raid after raid leading to victory after victory, to reach the final, along with Imperial College London. Much like LSE’s dominance in netball, Imperial have an almost hegemonic hold over Kabaddi.

It was a strange final, with the overall Kabaddi competition being curtailed due to time restrictions. The umpires created controversy with inconsistent scoring and seemingly lacking a basic understanding of the rules of the game. For a major tournament, umpiring should not be an issue. Amongst all of this, LSE started the final well and were on the front foot after the first half. Like all true champions, however, Imperial fought back in the second half to claim a last gasp victory. A gutting feeling without doubt, but second place was still a good achievement.

It was at Nationals where the male Kabaddi team will feel they should have done much better. The talent and skill level has always been there, but the team were not switched on and suffered an early elimination. The team were victims of Murphy’s Law. Plagued by injuries before, during and after the tournament, it is no surprise that they did not perform to the high levels they are capable of. Being in prime physical condition is essential for high level performance at a major competition. This is something they will have to review in the years to come.

The newly formed women’s Kabaddi team, captained by Rhea Shah, have shown sensational progression this season. From Imperial winning the annual Kabaddi Cup to the London and South Zone tournament to Nationals, the improvement shown by the women’s Kabaddi team has been extraordinary.

At London and South Zone, the team showed the first stage of their progression with victory over Imperial. At Nationals, however, with the addition of the University of Birmingham and an increased level of attention, the pressure was on to show just how good LSE were.

Facing Birmingham, LSE stormed into a 20-8 lead thanks to smart plays by Thalya Ming Shan Lim, Nishita Ranpura and Aishwarya Chandgadkar. With elimination rules in play, however, you are never safe, even with a big lead. Somehow, LSE hung on and ended up on the winning side of the 26-23 scoreline.

Facing Imperial in the final, this was a huge mental test for the team. Playing a national final, with hundreds watching on, maintaining concentration under pressure is often the decisive factor. It was a cagey start to the final, with Imperial edging 10-9 ahead at halftime. As is often the case, star player Pooja Tilvawala provided the inspiration, via a rugby tackle, to spur LSE on. In the second half, LSE gained point after point after point, to comfortably secure a 26-16 victory.

Champions…all rights are reserved for this image ©

It is time to pay serious attention to women’s Kabaddi. No more ‘showcasing Kabaddi’.

It was extremely disappointing that the NHSF (UK) did not see fit to have a trophy for women’s Kabaddi. In a world where it is easy to speak about equality, it is actions which determine true equality. ‘Fair play’ medals, whilst being a novel concept, do not equate to trophies for competition. One would hope that the NHSF (UK) would rectify this in future tournaments.

In the words of captain Rhea, “we want women’s Kabaddi to become the norm; at university level, regional level and national level.” Equality with the men’s game.

For a faith society like the Hindu Society, the importance of sport can often be disregarded. Yet, the determination, dedication and commitment shown this season has been exemplary across all sports.

Each season provides a fresh new challenge, so it is important not to dwell on the successes of yesterday, and instead, confront the new season and all its challenges with the right attitude.

Jessica Ennis-Hill: A tribute to a sensational sportswoman

One of the greatest ever...all rights are reserved for this image ©

One of the greatest ever…all rights are reserved for this image ©

By Manish Pandey.

There was always hope that she would turn out one last time at the World Championships in London in 2017. Hope that we would see that beaming smile one last time as she crossed the finish line, winning yet another medal.

As is the way with every sporting legend, we want to see them in action one more time. Ennis-Hill has shown tremendous courage and determination in her career, and showed the same traits in announcing her retirement.

There is always the temptation to go on, but retiring at the top is an incredibly brave thing to do. 1 Olympic Gold, 1 Olympic Silver, 2 World Championship Golds, 1 World Championship Silver, 1 World Indoor Gold, 1 European Gold and a Commonwealth Bronze. Not bad at all.

She is an inspiration for so many. For every fan watching, she went from being ‘Jessica Ennis’ to being ‘Our Jess’. She captured the hearts and minds of millions around the country.

Millions were shouting at the TV urging her on in the 800 metres at Rio, believing she could pull off a miracle and win gold. She gave it everything she had but missed out on gold, winning silver. We were disappointed, but still saw her smiling and showing incredible grace toward  Nafissatou Thiam, the gold medallist. The nation fell in love with Ennis-Hill years before, but this just reaffirmed why she is held in such high esteem by many. Being a gracious winner and a gracious loser is never easy, yet it came naturally to Ennis-Hill.

She is arguably the most complete all-round athlete this country has seen for a very long time. The most talented multi-event athlete. She was not just good. She was great. Ennis-Hill was at various times the best in the country at several events. The best at high jump and long jump, world class in the hurdles and a fine sprinter. Despite her small stature, she was excellent at the shot-put and even managed to jump a whole foot bigger than her own height. A rare feat.

Being the best was not easy. Ennis-Hill is also perhaps the toughest and most mentally strong athlete this country has produced. Most sports fans in this country only tune in for the big events, so we often fail to see just how hard our athletes truly work.

The gruelling morning sessions in the Sheffield cold and rain. Struggling through stress fractures to relearn technique. She was ruled out of the 2008 Beijing Olympics because of a stress fracture, meaning she had to switch her take off foot for the long jump from right to left.

That did not deter her, she ended up as world and Olympic champion within 4 years.

Every single person who has seen her train has said the same thing. They were left shocked at just how intense her sessions were. The continuous sprints, skips, jumps, throws, weight sessions and 800m training. All of this done day after day.

Ennis-Hill most certainly is made of ‘Sheffield Steel’.

Yet behind the on-track steel, there has been a role-model who is perhaps the nicest athlete around. It is easy for elite athletes to stay inside the bubble, but Ennis-Hill has been an inspiration through her actions. Her role as a Sky Sports living ambassador has helped boost the confidence of so many young people.

She has accepted and endured all that comes with fame and high level sport with a grace and humility that so many could and should learn. Did she ever claim it was easy to get back into shape after her pregnancy? No. She talked often about how tough it was and just how much work she had to put in.

She had doubts about her own powers to return. Even Olympic champions have doubts. We do not hear that much from any champion, but ‘Our Jess’ has always been real in a world of artificialness.

She has always stayed true to her roots. There has always been a feeling that she is just one of us.

In a world of TOWIE and Kardashians, Ennis-Hill provides the example for young women everywhere. She has always projected a healthy body image and has made athletics and exercise cool again. She became a world champion again, just 13 months after giving birth to baby boy Reggie. An Olympic silver came in Rio the following year. Spirit and toughness. 

It is that toughness and spirit which sets Ennis-Hill apart from the rest. Never fazed under pressure and always believing in her abilities in competition. It sounds simple enough, but it is much harder to showcase.

Going into London 2012, she was the face of the games. Did she crumble under the pressure? Of course not, she came out with a Gold medal that will forever be remembered.

Credit must also go to her coach, Toni Minichiello, who was a huge part of the success Ennis-Hill achieved. He drove her on and his skill can be seen in the way they approached her comeback from pregnancy.  A new statistic to measure her improbable but remarkable return known as PPPB, or post-pregnancy personal best.

It is perhaps fitting that Ennis-Hill’s surge to the top has coincided with the surge of women’s sport. We are seeing more attention and more funding being given to women in sport. It is not just about what the men do now. Ennis-Hill amongst others have helped drive women’s sport to the top.

She has never been afraid to speak her mind on controversial issues. Whether it be a sexist comment by an idiot from British Athletics or speaking out about Ched Evans despite the online threats from trolls, Ennis-Hill has shown her courage and determination is not limited to athletics.

We are currently in a time when success in athletics and sports in general is questioned vociferously. In a world of doping, Ennis-Hill has emerged as a shining line a tainted world.

London 2012 will inevitably will be what Ennis-Hill is remembered for. Her role as the heartbeat of ‘Super Saturday’.

She is an inspiration for women, for the ethnic minority, for all of us. Britain has been lucky to have her. We could all learn from Our Jess.

Mourinho has lost his shine and been left behind

Mourinho in crisis mode? ... all rights are reserved for this image ©

Mourinho in crisis mode? … all rights are reserved for this image ©

By Manish Pandey.

All it takes is one bad week at a club like Manchester United and the doom and gloom sets in. A club the stature of Manchester United should not be having a week where they lose 3 games in a row.

Yet it has happened. More than the outcome, it is the way in which such a week has unfolded which is troubling. Full of optimism before the derby, there is now a feeling of impending crisis at the club with Mourinho at the centre of that.

Paul Pogba has not produced. Wayne Rooney looks finished. Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s performances have deteriorated. There is little defensive discipline. And yes, Jose Mourinho has started to publicly criticise his players.

An argument can be made that it is too early to make any kind of judgement on Mourinho at United. However, the signs at the moment, are not encouraging at all. Mourinho’s powers look to be on the wane.

Mourinho at the minute, resembles a man who is not in control. He seems startled at the size of the club and the job in hand. He has shown no clarity in decision making.

Mourinho at his peak- between 2004-2010- was a man who knew what he wanted. He had a formula for success. Defensive discipline, tactical awareness and a powerful team which had control of the game. He was the man who was the banker in the big games.

Currently, it is the complete opposite. There is no set way of United playing football. For a man who many thought had plans ranging from A-Z – there now seems to be no Plan A. At best, United have been a long ball team. Long balls against City, Feyenoord and Watford represent a hopeful strategy.

Defensively, United look even more susceptible than they did under Louis van Gaal. There seems to be a real lack of organisation. Not something associated with a Jose Mourinho team.

Ruthlessness. A trait in many Mourinho teams and the manager himself. The team have been far from ruthless, not taking the few chances they’ve created. The manager has shown himself to being weak by persisting with Wayne Rooney.

Rooney has had a great career and still has much to offer. Without doubt, however, the time has come for Rooney to increasingly offer his services from the bench and not the starting XI. There are players who are better equipped to doing what Mourinho is currently asking of Rooney, and players who are in far better form than Rooney.

The Rooney problem is small relative to the wider problems at the club, but is perhaps symbolic. His power at the club is so great than managers since Sir Alex Ferguson seem unable to reduce his role.

Instead of trying to shoehorn his captain into the team, Mourinho needs to do what is best for the team. Rooney is not the best in any position that he plays, of the players available.

Mourinho needs to take a look across Manchester and see how Pep Guardiola has created his Man City team.

Guardiola came in with a set of ideas, a system he prefers and he chose the players best suited to that system. That meant no place for Joe Hart, Yaya Toure or Samir Nasri. Formidable footballers, but not part of Guardiola’s thinking.

On the contrary, Mourinho is the man with no plan. He has shuffled his starting XI often, showing no idea of knowing what his best team is. There is no idea as to what his best centre-back partnership is, what the best midfield combination is, nor who his best wingers are. These are significant areas of the pitch.

Muddled decision making has been best displayed in the derby and against Watford. Jesse Lingard and Henrikh Mkhitaryan were brought into the derby despite the fact that they had barely played any football all season. They looked off the pace and were subbed at half-time.

Against Watford, Mourinho played Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford, despite the fact that they had played just 3 days earlier. Memphis Depay came on for Luke Shaw at left-back in the closing stages. Baffling.

Michael Carrick has not played a single second of football this season. What was the point of him signing a 1 year extension?

Increasingly, Mourinho’s demeanour is now resembling that of a Mourinho who is in the midst of a meltdown. We have seen it before at Real Madrid and Chelsea.

The blame of the referees. The public shaming of his players. The lack of taking responsibility himself. An inability to understand medical welfare (his reaction to Anthony Martial’s injury was bizarre).

Mourinho of old, on the way up, made players love him. Now he expects them to obey him. Criticising players publicly can be dangerous and can impact dressing room morale.

He no longer has the shine of the old Mourinho. The charming man, who was cocksure and so full of self-belief. His antics whereas entertaining before, now seem tiresome and boring.

Now he seems full of self-doubt and negativity. The reasons behind this can be seen through his tactics, and more deeper, his time in Spain.

His experience of Spain has undoubtedly dented his confidence and belief.

Mourinho prior to his time at Real Madrid, was the leading tactician in the world. He had a script and the game would often play to that script.

At Real Madrid, however, he encountered a challenge and a foe which has left him badly bruised and feeling tactically vulnerable. That foe being Barcelona and Pep Guardiola in particular.

Guardiola’s brand of football has been revolutionary in the modern day. Many have said it was due to having Xavi, Iniesta and Messi that he was successful. But just looking at the way his teams have played subsequently at Bayern Munich and currently at Manchester City, it is clear that his idea of football is something great.

The football has been scintillating. It has been attacking, striving for perfection. It has been a style of football that makes Mourinho look outdated.

Mourinho never found a solution. He tried very hard, putting Pepe in midfield, tinkering with the tempo and fluidity of the game. Never did he find a way to overcome which would work. We saw it in the derby. It looked like City had 15 men on the pitch they were finding that much space.

There is no doubt that Mourinho is less effective now than before 2010. His main success came within 6 years (2004-2010), at a time when Europe moved to a more defensive brand of football. Since then, a return to a more attacking mindset has seen Mourinho win only 2 titles this decade.

The other super-coaches in the premier league, Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp and Antonio Conte have a fresh energy about them- much like Mourinho did when he first arrived in England.

The teams they manage also play with positive energy, looking to attack and score goals. In contrast, Mourinho seems old, tired and yesterday’s news.

Even the title that Mourinho won with Chelsea in 2015 was not a typical Mourinho title. He did not storm the league and charge over the finishing line, rather limped to success. Within that, his dealings in the transfer market left much to be desired.

Of course it is dangerous to write off a coach with the CV of Mourinho. It is key to remember that most coaches (with the exception of Sir Alex Ferguson) enjoy 10 years of greatness. The game moves on fast.

Mourinho is resembling Roy Hodgson more than he is vintage Jose Mourinho.

He needs to find his best team. He needs to get the best out of Pogba. He needs to build positivity, not negativity amongst his squad. He needs to be ruthless and drop players out of form. He needs to increase the energy and intensity of the team. He needs to do this fast.

14 defeats in his last 32 games suggest a deeper issue with Mourinho, one which should cause concern for Manchester United fans.


Rio 2016: Olympics Review

A historic games in Rio…all rights are reserved for this image ©

By Manish Pandey.

A historic games. For many reasons. Despite all of the problems before and during the games, the Olympic games in Rio de Janeiro was truly spectacular.

The final games for so many sporting greats. From Usain Bolt to Michael Phelps. From Mo Farah to Jessica Ennis-Hill.

Across the 28 different sports at Rio 2016, there were some outstanding performances which captured the eye of the worldwide audience. The lack of crowds cannot take away from the high level skill displayed by Olympians.

The archery saw South Korean domination with 4 Gold medals, the most of any nation. The athletics as expected was centred around the big name athletes, but the emergence and achievements of the newer athletes was also commendable.

Team USA dominated in the track and field with 13 Gold medals and 31 medals overall, winning in events not renowned for US dominance.  Matthew Centrowitz Jr won in the 1500m. Gold for Kerron Clement and Dalilah Muhammad in the 400m hurdles. A Silver medal in the 5000m for Paul Kipkemoi Chelimo and for Evan Jager in the 3,000m Men’s Steeplechase. A Bronze medal for  Galen Rupp in the marathon and Jennifer Simpson in the 1500m. An outstanding achievement.

Yet the focus of track and field was on the big hitters. The superstars that make us jump up and scream at our television sets. Usain Bolt cemented his position as an immortal in sport completing his triple triple. Mo Farah was able to fall down and still win his 3rd and 4th Olympic Gold medals.

Wayde van Niekerk smashed Michael Johnson’s 400m World Record in what was perhaps the most memorable moment of track and field. Maybe only surpassed by the atmosphere generated by the Men’s Pole Vault. Thiago Braz da Silva produced a spectacular Gold medal performance which created an atmosphere unmatched for the rest of the games.

Jessica Ennis-Hill produced an inspirational performance to gain Silver in the Heptathlon, narrowly missing out on a title defending Gold. For someone who just gave birth 2 years ago, this was a spectacular performance. Her words and tears told us it was her last Olympic Games. Her achievements will live on forever.

The Badminton saw a valiant effort by India’s P.V Sindhu against World Number 1 Carolina Marin to achieve India’s highest ever medal (Silver) in Badminton.  It was a high quality final worthy of any Olympics.

Brazil reached the final of the beach volleyball in both the men’s and women’s competition, with the men being able to go one step further and win the Gold medal on a super night on Copacabana Beach.

Uzbekistan were the surprise leaders in the boxing with 3 Gold medals. Nicola Adams  from Team GB made history retaining her title from London 2012. However, it was the controversy around results which made the headlines. Inadequate and deceitful scoring from the judges robbed people of matches, most notably Michael Conlan.

The cycling was, as expected, dominated by Team GB with 6 Gold Medals, with every member of the track cycling team winning a medal. They broke record after record and left rival countries scratching their heads, confusing them to such an extent that some had the cheek to question the integrity and honesty of the cyclists.

Sir Bradley Wiggins made history, winning his 5th Gold Medal in the Men’s Team Pursuit, alongside Ed Clancy, Steven Burke and Owain Doull.

Laura Trott continued her dominance with a Gold in the Women’s Team Pursuit alongside Joanna Rowsell, Katie Archibald, Ciara Horne and Elinor Barker, and another Gold in the Women’s Omnium, making her a 4x Olympic Champion – the most of any British female.

The happiness continued for Trott in the form of her fiancée Jason Kenny. Kenny won his 4th Gold Medal in the Men’s Team Sprint, his 5th in the Individual Men’s Sprint and his record equalling 6th Gold Medal in the Men’s Keirin. Kenny is Britain’s most successful Olympian alongside Sir Chris Hoy.

Mark Cavendish won Silver in the Men’s Omnium and the first time Olympians of Callum Skinner, Rebecca James and Katy Marchant also won medals, showing the quality in depth of British cycling.

On the road, Chris Froome followed up his Bronze in London with another Bronze in Rio. It seems the exertions of the Tour de France hampered him in his quest for Gold.

The Diving enthralled as ever, although the mystery of the green pool perhaps took centre stage. China dominated the Diving pool with 7 Gold Medals, an outstanding performances. It was a mixed competition for Team GB with a wonderful Gold for Jack Laugher and Chris Mears in the Men’s 3m Springboard Synchronisation. Another Bronze for Tom Daley and Dan Goodfellow in the 10m Synchronisation was good, yet Daley’s shock elimination in the semi-finals of the individual competition will be his overriding memory of the games.

The Equestrian was a closely fought battle between Germany, France and Great Britain. The overriding memory for Team GB will be the record breaking third Gold medal for Charlotte Dujardin, cementing her status as the most dominating rider of the era. A Gold for Nick Skeleton at the age of 58 showed that age has no barriers in the Olympics.

Great Britain’s Women achieved a shock Gold medal in the Hockey, beating the best team of the last few years in Netherlands. Team GB were dominated but did not give up, mainly due to the heroics of goalkeeper Maddie Hinch, who put in a performance of a lifetime which will forever go down in history. Not only did she keep her team in the game in normal time, but she was the hero in the penalty shootout. Perhaps the best goalkeeping performance in the history of British sport.

A first time Olympics for the sport of Golf raised many eyebrows, with the top 4 players in the world pulling out citing health concerns – a pathetic excuse to be quite frank. Yet the performance and passion of Justin Rose showed just how much this meant. He had been pumped up for the Olympics from the start, with a one track focus on winning a medal. He did more than that, he won Gold and he has inspired many youngsters to pick up a golf club for the first time. It was an enthralling final round between him and the in form player in the world, Henrik Stenson. To win, Rose had to, to quote Rose, “out-Stenson, Stenson”.

The Gymnastics captured the attention of almost everyone watching the Olympics. Whether it was the extraordinary in Simone Biles, the outrageous death-defying moves of Dipa Karmakar or the sublime of Max Whitlock, this was an outstanding Gymnastics competition. A competition dominated by the United States and Great Britain. A special mention to Amy Tinkler, who at 16 won Bronze. A summer of doing her GCSEs and then winning Bronze. Not bad at all.

Brazil saw something it craved for a long time. It won a competition on home soil. Gold in the Men’s Football. Led by Neymar, it was not pretty but it was very effective. The Maracana was heaving, it was loud, it was excited and it was everything a crowd should be for the Olympics. Football was always guaranteed a large following by the Brazilian public.

The Rowing saw a battle between Great Britain and Germany, with Team GB narrowly topping the medals table with 3 Golds. It is always exciting to watch the Rowing, watching the pain of competition on the faces of the rowers, who are giving every last sinew to achieve a medal. Cancellations due to rough winds and waves did not help the rowers, but ultimately, the competition delivered as it usually does.

The swimming was dominated by Michael Phelps and Team USA, as expected. It is a thing of marvel watching Phelps. His dedication to his craft and his performances under pressure say a lot about the most successful Olympian in history. A man who won 2 Gold medals within 70 minutes of one another. An awe-inspiring Olympian and sportsman.

Yet it was not just about Phelps. Katie Ledecky is the finest female swimmer I have ever seen, and she is only 19. World record after world record, gold medal after gold medal, she is relentless. She has raised the bar to a level that not many will ever reach. She carries the same sense of inevitability of victory that Phelps and Bolt do.

Team GB saw excellent success in the pool, competing and winning medals. Jazz Carlin is a 2x Silver medalist –  behind Ledecky both times. Adam Peaty is a world record holder and a Gold medalist. Britain have a real star in Peaty,- a star who even Phelps is impressed by- they must make sure he is given everything to dominate. A number of 4th place finishes shows there is potential, but there has to enough funding and work done to convert the 7 forth place finishes to medals.

Taekwondo saw Team GB’s Jade Jones cement her place as one of the greatest of all time. The ‘Head-Hunter’ retained her title from London 2012, and in some style, beating her opponents with ease. Team GB also won Silver thanks to Lutalo Muhammed, although he should have won Gold, leading with just 1 second left on the clock. He will forever remember to keep his focus. A Bronze thanks to Bianca Walkden shows the potential of Team GB in Taekwondo.

Andy Murray retained his Gold from London to become the first man to win 2 Olympic Gold Medals in tennis. An extraordinary final vs Juan Martin del Potro was a fitting end to a captivating competition. Del Potro seems to be back to his best, unleashing that vicious forehand which accounted for Novak Djokovic and Rafa Nadal, and gave Murray an almighty scare.

The domination of the Brownlee brothers in the Triathlon continued, with Alastair winning Gold and Johnny winning Silver. It is a gruelling event and the domination of the Brownlee’s is a testament to the hard work and sacrifice they have put in.

There was a lot of negative media coverage about Rio before the games. From water quality to Zika to doping to corruption to infrastructure problems to security concerns. Ultimately, as with any sporting competition, once the competition begins, everything else goes to the back.

Watching Bolt and Phelps gives us joy that talking about a green pool does not.

The economic problems that currently beset most of Brazil right now will remain past the Olympics. The 2 week carnival provides a temporary escape, but not permanent relief. The problems there before, will remain after.

Elsewhere, the Olympic Games provide a relief for the rest of us. In a post-Brexit vote world, where there is so much division, the Olympics spark unity.

It may only be once every 4 years for us spectators, but those 2 weeks every 4 years are something special to cherish.